Indian Prairie School District 204: Bringing mental health services to schools

February 27, 2023 | by Edward-Elmhurst Health
Thanks to funding from Edward-Elmhurst Health (EEH), Indian Prairie School District 204 has been able to make mental health services available to students in their schools.

The initiative is being funded through EEH’s Community Investment Fund (CIF). In July 2022, EEH awarded $3,994,000 to 14 organizations across Cook, DuPage and Will Counties to advance health equity and support local economic growth.

Indian Prairie is the fourth-largest school district in Illinois with approximately 26,000 from pre-K to 12th grade.

“We are a high-performing school district with great staff and community engagement,” said Dr. Adrian Talley, superintendent of Indian Prairie School District 204. “People want to be in Indian Prairie.”

The district developed Indian Prairie CARES after a return to in-person instruction in the wake of the COVID-19 and the realization that there was an unmet need for mental health services because of the pandemic, according to Dr. Talley.

“We saw an increase in the mental health needs of our students, from our youngest students all the way up to our high schoolers,” said Dawn Forkner, Social-Emotional Learning and Wellness Coordinator in the district. “We were hearing from parents that their kids needed help.”

Area waiting lists for mental health services are long, especially for families who rely on Medicaid services. To address the overwhelming need, and in alignment with CIF’s health equity priority, Indian Prairie launched CARES Community Mental Health Clinics to bring mental health services directly into schools and remove barriers like transportation, cost and lack of insurance. 

Indian Prairie identified four schools with the largest number of low-income students who live within easy walking distance for families. As a result, no-cost mental health services are available for all students of these schools and also accessible to their feeder schools.

Sessions for K-12 students began in November 2022 and will run through June 2023. On Tuesday nights and Saturday mornings, three licensed therapists hold three therapy sessions at each of the four buildings. CARES also has bilingual therapists.  

The CIF grant will fund 72 weekly therapy sessions totaling more than 1,500 hours through the end of the school year, as well as community engagement events like family portraits and a virtual program for parents of students experiencing mental health concerns. 

“We surveyed families asking if they would have access to mental health treatment without CARES,” said Dr. Tara Bell, an instructional specialist in the district. “The majority said they would not otherwise have access to mental health services – the grant is engaging its target population.”

The district hopes to continue the program in the coming years. 

“We are getting a lot of positive feedback from parents that this has been such a blessing,” said Forkner. “We're destigmatizing mental health care and creating an environment that's friendly, welcoming and encouraging.”
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